Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want read at your funeral. Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of your local newspaper. Don’t write anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.
Those recommendations aren’t about politics. They aren’t reactions to a “nanny state.” They aren’t about political correctness.
They are just good, plain common sense and good manners.
In recent weeks, the now-former president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association showed why those kinds of recommendations are important when you’re on social media. Dennis Haugen went on an unprovoked, uncouth and completely unnecessary tirade against someone on Facebook whom he doesn’t even know personally. He ended up resigning his post and later his association with the Grain Growers board when the post was revealed. He indicated his resignation was to protect the Grain Growers.
Little late for that. The damage had already been done, not just to the North Dakota Grain Growers Association but to agriculture as a whole.
People associated with agriculture make up only a tiny slice of the general population. Because of that, we already have the deck stacked against us as far as perception goes. Many in non-ag populations view farmers and ranchers as uneducated, unsophisticated and backwards, something we certainly know to be untrue. But Haugen’s ranting just took us all down with him.
We need agricultural leaders who amplify our voices and lift us up, not drag us down. We need people who know how to disagree without being disagreeable, who do not put on condescending tones to those with whom they don’t see eye-to-eye. Otherwise, we all get tarred with the same rude brush.
Dan Wogsland, NDGGA executive director, said his organization hasn’t previously had issues with social media but now will plan training on the subject. And while that’s a good idea for all organizations, and not just at the time of a crisis, this isn’t just about social media etiquette. It’s about knowing when to stop talking or typing and just keep your peace.
Side note on the controversy: The person to whom Haugen wrote his little diatribe was discussing issues with anxiety. If we’re going to address mental health in any sort of real way in this industry, it would be helpful if people didn’t go out of their way to make someone feel worse when they’re honest about their issues.
We live in a free country. But, as everyone should have learned in elementary school, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences for your speech. If you’re going to run your mouth, or your keyboard, you’d better take into consideration how it will be perceived. And when you’re in a leadership position in agriculture, you’d better take into consideration how it makes agriculture look.
Online or offline, if you’re faced with the decision of whether or not to put in your two cents, maybe the best advice is to just follow the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you would want to be treated. No one wants to be cursed at and disrespected, so don’t inflict that on other people, regardless of whether you disagree with their views.